Friday, November 21, 2008

The Ethics of the Pedagogy / Social Policy Split

Is it ethical for national education organizations to focus on improving pedagogy and not on basic social and material inequalities that impact on learning?

For an example, I've looked to the The International Reading Association (IRA), but almost any education association would do.

From their website:
The International Reading Association (IRA) is a professional membership organization that promotes high levels of literacy for all by improving the quality of reading instruction, disseminating research and information about reading, and encouraging a lifetime reading habit.
If my earlier post about the vision difficulties of children is correct, then it would seem impossible to improve literacy for many kids without first dealing systematically with that pre-pedagogical challenge. In other words, the IRA's "mission" cannot be achieved unless we look beyond pedagogy. But they have explicitly limited their mission to efforts focused on pedagogy.

Some other examples from its website which I do not have time to look at more systematically.

See this brochure: The Role of Reading Instruction in Addressing the Overrepresentation of Minority Children in Special Education in the United States. As the title indicates, the brochure focuses only on instruction. There is no mention of any other issues. And none of the recommendations in the brochure point to anything other than pedagogy.

That brochure at least limits itself to pedagogy in its title. This one, Supporting Young Adolescents’ Literacy Learning, does not. Yet it looks only at instruction and says nothing about something as basic as vision care while at least seeming to give an overview of what is necessary to support "literacy learning" in general.

In this case, especially, is there a danger that people reading the brochure will assume that the problem really is all about pedagogy? Is there a danger that a brochure like this might actually have negative impacts on fights to improve literacy by pointing us away from basic issues like vision?

So, back to my question.

Is it ethical for national organizations like this that have at least some influence to limit themselves to pedagogy when, in many cases, there is substantial evidence that pedagogy may not be the core problem for many students?

And if there are at least legitimate questions about whether this stance is ethical, where can we draw a reasonable line where their responsibility to raise issues stops? Vision care seems obvious (that's why I picked it) but supporting an increased Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families (which might make a real difference) seems to go way too far afield, at least to me. (Or does it?)

This may seem like a pretty abstract "academic" question, but I think it's actually quite important. To the extent that there is movement towards an acknowledgement that schooling mostly can't be solved by dealing with schooling, where does that leave groups whose focus has only been on schools?

(Feel free to correct me about my understanding of the IRA's position--it's just an example.)

(oops--IRA not NRA. Fixed.)

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